|In the Philippines, as in
other Catholic countries, June 24 is observed as the feast day of Saint
John the Baptist. The day offers an excuse to engage in revelry such as
dousing water on unwary people.
In Aliaga, Nueva Ecija, in
Barangay Bibiclat, hundreds of devotees of the village's patron saint,
John the Baptist, transform themselves into "mud people" -- literally "taong
putik." The locals call the ritual Pagsa-San Juan.
Outsiders call it the Taong Putik Festival, an event -- an
experience -- that has recently caught the attention and interest
of the tourism sector.
Nobody knows exactly when
the Taong Putik Festival started. One legend says the image of the patron
saint which was brought to Bibiclat by early Ilocano settlers, helped in
driving away poisonous snakes from the village. The name "Bibiclat" came
from the Ilocano word "biclat" meaning snake. Another legend
says that when Japanese soldiers during World War II were about to execute
all the men in the village in retaliation for the death of 13 fellow soldiers,
it rained so hard that the male villagers had to be herded into the church
to seek shelter. After a while, the Japanese soldiers had a change of mind
and set their captives free. The residents attributed this to a miracle
of Saint John the Baptist, and vowed to pay homage to him on his
feast day by wearing costumes patterned after his attire -- this time,
using native materials.
At dawn on June 24, devotees
garbed in dry banana leaves or vines
emerge from their homes
and walk the Bibiclat streets.
They go from house to house
asking for alms in the form of candles,
or cash with which to buy
candles, for Saint John.
They smear themselves with
thus the term "taong putik."
The "mud people" include men...
and even children.
The "mud people" later converge
at the church plaza
to light candles for Saint
pray in supplication or
think of the blessings bestowed
on them by their patron saint...
and participate in the outdoor
Despite the near-pagan flavor
of the festival, the Church manages
to emphasize the religious
significance of the event.
Local and foreign tourists
and government officials including
Nueva Ecija Governor Tomas
N. Joson III, come to experience the festival.
After the Mass, the musicians
-- properly attired for the occasion --
strike up a tune to signal
the start of the much-awaited procession.
The image of Bibiclat's
revered patron saint emerges from the village church,
borne on the shoulders of
selected male devotees...
as hundreds of "mud people"
The procession moves down
Bibiclat's main street and back to the church.
The Taong Putik Festival
-- a unique and indigenous ritual
in honor of Saint John the
Baptist by the people of Bibiclat.
courtesy of the Nueva Ecija Provincial Tourism Office
by Ramon R. Valmonte